One of Christopher Shannon's best menswear collections was Spring/Summer 15 —a parade of oversized tees, windbreakers, and sweats replete with cut-and-paste pockets and roughly collaged graphics. Shannon's chief reference for the season? Photographer Adrienne Salinger's 1995 book In My Room: Teenagers in Their Bedrooms, portraits of teens inside their most personal spaces — some covered in Thrasher tears and homemade punk posters, others splashed with bold blue paint and piled high with stuffed animals. Each room is home to a talismanic collection of youth signifiers.
"When I found the Adrienne Salinger book, it was more about the way people decorated their bedrooms rather than the bed — what they collaged on the walls, just like, trying to make your space your own and find your own identity," Shannon told. "It's about that enclosure that I don't think we have anymore because we live in a very digital way."
Salinger says "My initial interest came from the way teenagers were always reduced and stereotyped in the media, despite the fact that it's actually a point of great transition in a person's life. It's the last time you live in your parents' house, so you can have pretty strong opinions about the world — you don't have to compromise yet. I'm also interested in how people define themselves in space. No matter their socioeconomic status, most teen's bedrooms are 12 x 12 and they have a 60 watt bulb right in the centre."
Having first begun the series in the 80s, shooting teen spaces on the west coast, from Seattle to Los Angeles, Salinger scrapped the project because she hadn't thought to conduct interviews with her subjects, a vital component of In My Room. "I felt like I was doing the thing I'd been initially accusing others of: not listening enough," Salinger explains over the phone from the University of New Mexico, where she presently teaches the competitive graduate photography course. When she moved to upstate New York in the 90s, Salinger got a grant and started the project over, his time conducting a two-hour interview with each subject that would later be included, in condensed form, in the book.
"Teenagers have everything they own in their room, past and present, and they're changing identities all of the time. What's on the walls is, somehow, kind of in opposition to who they are in that space — and what they say is completely at odds with it," says Salinger. "I'm interested in those contradictions that arise as you're trying to figure out who you are."
At the time, the myths and stereotypes of being a teenager were totally mediated by TV and advertising, and I was trying to dispel that by making these images. About five years after the book was published, I started to see things that looked like the rooms that I went to in films and TV. I remember thinking, "Why did I even do this project? Everybody already thought this."
"But then I met a director who's worked on projects like Breaking Bad, who told me the book is still used by set designers. The very thing that I was trying to show became the thing everyone was seeing in the context I was working against — it was co-opted and copied so quickly. I thought that was fascinating and horrifying, but kind of awesome."
"Somehow we all got the message that coming of age means you're supposed to have this unified sense of self. That's not interesting, it's just not. The only thing that makes human beings fascinating at all is that we're not a unified personality or presence; we're formed by so many different things that collide."